By Dan Plouffe
The first meeting of the season between the Gloucester Rangers and the Ottawa Jr. Senators told the story of two strong franchises that are perhaps a year apart in their development cycles, as the Jr. Sens cruised to a 6-2 home-ice victory on Wednesday at Jim Peplinski Arena.
The two Central Canada Jr. A Hockey League clubs found themselves at very similar levels when they met in the playoffs two seasons ago, with Ottawa prevailing in a hard-fought six-game series.
Last season, Gloucester continued on the upswing by winning home-ice advantage and its first-round playoff series, while the Jr. Sens experienced a mini-rebuild and wound up missing the post-season by a single point.
“It was disappointing being that close. I think if we’d got it, we were probably the team you didn’t want to play,” says Ottawa interim general manager Darren Graff, noting it was hard to look back on individual games that wound up costing them that one point. “We thought we were probably 10-20 points better than what we had.”
This year, the Jr. Sens are off to a hot 3-0 start with a more experienced lineup filled with some talented offensive top-six forwards.
Ottawa’s top line of Connor Brown, Devon Rice, and Drew Anderson continued their torrid pace to open the season against Gloucester, registering a total of seven points to give them a combined 25 over the course of three games.
“Our top line is as good as anybody’s in this league,” Graff says, adding that Deric Boudreau, Trevor Packard, and Ben Robillard are a formidable second unit. “We’re really excited as an organization. We’re happy with what we’re starting the season with. We’re going to be competitive and have a good time.”
The Rangers, meanwhile, appear to be in the same kind of shoes Ottawa wore last year, with a young lineup that features several of the area’s top Jr. B players from last season. It may be a new start to the cycle for Gloucester, but the club is hoping to skip the complete downswing and compete for a playoff spot.
“We hope that after two really good years we would not take that dip,” notes Rangers general manager and owner Paul Jennings. “Although we are young, I think we have some of the best top-end players in the league.”
Jennings believes that Michael McMurtry has the potential to be a top-five scorer in the league, while 20-year-old Devin Cobbold’s speed is always a threat, and their defense is anchored by CCHL veterans Jordan Fequet and Mathieu White.
Goal scoring could remain a challenge for the 1-3 Rangers, who are now without their top three offensive leaders from last season – Andrew Creppin, Michael Webley, and Nathan Pancel.
“It’ll be probably impossible to fill Andy Creppin’s shoes,” Jennings acknowledges. “He was our guy. He broke all our scoring records.”
NEW BENCH BOSSES
One thing Ottawa and Gloucester share in common this season is that they both have new head coaches. The Rangers promoted Sylvain Favreau from his assistant post following the departure of Rick Dorval, who moved to an assistant’s role with Smiths Falls in order to have more time available with his upcoming marriage.
“It was unfortunate Rick resigned. We had a good working relationship,” notes Favreau, a former Central league player who went on to play in the NCAA and the French Elite League. “I’m looking forward to bringing a little bit of my own to this young team.
“Our defensive play will be critical this season, especially with a younger team. But as a player, I really liked to push the pace and put a lot of emphasis on the offense.”
For the Jr. Senators, they were already expecting a new coach in Peter Ambroziak, hired at the end of last season, but then wound up with an even newer head coach when Ambroziak resigned before training camp to spend more time with his family, which just moved to Ottawa after many years in New Mexico.
Former Hawkesbury coach/GM Martin Dagenais steps into the head coach role on an interim basis, assisted by Graff.
“You fit in hockey during the day as you can because it’s kind of a 24-hour job,” Graff describes, highlighting that most CCHL coaches have their own full-time jobs on top of coaching duties. “You have to love it. And if you’ve got the time for it, it’s a lot of fun.”
Ottawa visits Nepean this Sunday, while Gloucester travels to Kanata on Tuesday.
HELP SHINE A LIGHT ON LOCAL SPORT! The Ottawa Sports Pages has proudly provided a voice for local sport for over 10 years, but we need your help to continue another 10 and beyond. Please donate to the Ottawa Sports Pages Fund today.